CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
[I wrote this a long time ago, and it has appeared often in published form, originally in The Christian Century, and here it is again, still too long for a “high concept” blog…]
As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples to get a colt that had never been ridden. “If anybody sees you taking it,” he told them, “tell them I need it.” They found the colt and brought it to Jesus and put their coats on it for a saddle and Jesus rode on it into Jerusalem. Many people spread their own clothes on the road, or leafy branches they cut from the trees, and they shouted “Hosanna” as he rode into town. (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19, VSR)
“It’s Palm Sunday, so I want you to go into town and steal me a donkey,” Jesus told his disciples. “If anybody catches you, tell them I need it.”
Reminds me of the time “Gunner Bob” Reinhart, one of my colleagues in the “Willing Workers” Sunday School class, happened to notice the keys dangling from the ignition in Mr. Bothwell’s new Olds Rocket 88. It was Palm Sunday afternoon, and Gunner decided to take the car for a Holy Week spin. Mr. Bothwell noticed his car taking off from in front of his house and ran down his driveway after it, house slippers on feet and Sunday funnies in hand.
“Why are you taking my car?” he cried.
Gunner, apparently remembering our lesson on the morning, yelled back, “I need it.”
One of Jesus’ disciples nudged the other as they walked into town. “And if they go for that, I’ve got some nice recreational lots along the Dead Sea I can sell them.”
Both capitalists and communists claim Jesus, but he was neither. His approach was entirely different; he just borrowed everything. He borrowed the water he turned into wine, and he borrowed the stone jars from which that wine was poured. He borrowed a boat from which to teach or by which to cross a lake. He borrowed houses in which to eat, teach, and heal. (Some of them did not fare very well, either–one lost its roof so a paralytic could be lowered in to be healed.) He borrowed sons, brothers and husbands to be his disciples. He borrowed the upper room in which he ate his last supper with his borrowed friends. Borrowed was the manger in which he was born, borrowed his cross, and borrowed his tomb.
We think of Jesus as a giver, not a taker. He was the giver of health, love, truth and even the ultimate, his own life. Yet Jesus throughout his entire career borrowed things.
This was not just his lifestyle was an itinerant preacher. He was teaching us that all we have is borrowed from God. He ignored all strictures against lending and borrowing, be it a cloak or a second mile or even one’s other cheek, because none of us really has any possessions. Bigger barns, Swiss bank accounts, even gaining the whole world–none of that is enough for us to establish a claim upon ourselves. You yourself, your very life, is borrowed, so how can you claim anything you have as your own?
Gunner and I learned in Sunday school the “accounting theory” of faith. You get what you have coming to you. Indeed, Gunner got it when he returned Mr. Bothwell’s car. One doesn’t steal donkeys–or Oldsmobiles–and get away with it in my hometown.
Over against the accounting theory stands the unexpected Jesus, the one who says, “If you would follow me, take up your cross, and steal me a donkey.” Jesus lived the reality of grace, of God being good to us not because we are good but because God is good; not because we have been true to some legalistic plumb line of stewardship but because God is rue to the divine identity. To see ourselves as borrowers is to recognize ourselves as those who live by grace, who have no claim upon God except the one that God give in Christ.
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia launched the New York City Center of Music and Drama, but he never attended the ballet there. Someone asked him why, since he otherwise seemed to be such a supporter of art. He replied, “I’m a guy who likes to keep score. With ballet, I never know who’s ahead.” There is some kind of relationship calculator built into most of us that causes us to keep score.
Relationships, however, have a way of refusing to go by the numbers. That is why so many of us end up forsaking relationships altogether–relationships to other people, to God and even to ourselves. Unless we can keep score and know who is ahead, we do not even want to attend the performance. We may support the idea, and say that it is beautiful, just as LaGuardia did with ballet, but we do not go.
The unexpected Jesus says to us, “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:421). “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But…lend, expecting nothing in return…” (Luke 6:34035a). “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us…” (Luke 11:4a).
That’s a clue. The last sentence comes from a prayer; it is a plea to God. “God, you forgive us our sins, for sins–those attitudes and actions that keep us so far from you–are our debts, and there is no way we can pay off those debts. The only way we can make right our relationship with you is if you forgive those debts." Each one of us is a Third World nation.
Grace has no contract requirement, nor can it be attained through manipulation. Grace is what we borrow, knowing we can never repay, and knowing that the Lender understands we can never repay
Jesus frees us to be borrowers from God. Perhaps it is too much to expect us to borrow easily from one another. We are not ready to be fellow borrowers until we have borrowed life from God. That is what Jesus teaches. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m a borrower. If I can be a borrower, you can be one, too. Borrow what you need from me.”
Jesus comes to us in a borrowed manger, on a borrowed cross, up from a borrowed tomb, breaking to us the borrowed bread of life, lending us life, forgiveness and hope. “Borrow from me,” he says. “Borrow the things that make for life. Let others borrow as well, and do not hinder them. Hell is a life that is earned. Heaven is a life that is borrowed. Borrowed is best. Go steal me a donkey…:”
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
I tweet as yooper1721.